It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits down in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to give you his calls. Today, get set for some Six Nations.
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Beating Ireland meant Scotland picked up consecutive Six Nations wins for the first time since 2001. The next target - a feat of three straight wins, was last achieved in 1996. Their Round Three victory was accomplished with 29 per cent possession, 23 per cent territory, 16 penalties conceded and the hosts were forced to make over 150 tackles with just 36 carries recorded for 102 metres. Those are pretty similar stats to those in the June 2012 besting of Australia in torrid conditions, but it's not unreasonable to suggest that more is going to be required to win games on a consistent basis. Wales have won ten of their last twelve games in the tournament and their last four away. They have also beaten Scotland in nine of the last ten meetings by an average score of 27-15. The last four clashes have seen the Scots carry for a total of 1945 metres but score just four tries. In contrast of efficiency, Wales accumulated twelve tries from their 1725 metres made. The visitors have outscored teams after the break in 7/8 Six Nations matches, by an average of ten points and in 4/5 games against Scotland by an average of nine points. They've scored 49 of their 64 points after half-time so far and I like the look of -2 on the second-half handicap. There have been fourteen cards in the last eight Six Nations games between Wales and Scotland and eight cards in the six games played in Scotland (at least one a game). Only two of thirteen clashes have gone card-less so a sin-bin looks good.
Les Bleus have lost five competition games in a row and added to the draw against Saturday's opponents last season, that's six games in this tournament without a win. They have also lost five of their last six away games in the Six Nations. Ireland have lost seven of their last nine games, including consecutive defeats in this trophy for the first time since 2008. Picking a winner and indeed positives for either team has proved tough. The visitors seem hampered by the set-up of the Top 14, with Philippe Saint-Andre having less time to prepare his squad than he would desire. The pace of their domestic games, attritional nature and the number of 'foreign' players in key positions are also factors. Combine that with a starting XV that rarely contains players picked in their best positions and that run of results becomes explainable. Ireland have their own issues, with a coach under pressure, injuries to influential personnel, some questionable management of the captaincy and fly-half position and on the cusp of a dreaded period of transition. Both sides have been vulnerable after the break - Ireland have led at half-time in nine of their last fourteen games and been outscored in ten of them in the second-half (the Wales game being an extreme example of this trend). France have led at half-time themselves in 7/8 games but been outscored after the break in the last three matches this tournament - by at least seven points. So, to pick a winner have resorted to the head-to-head record, and with France winning eleven of the previous thirteen meetings and three of four played in Ireland, I will cautiously back the Clermont contingent to inspire the away win at 1.91 on Saturday.
England have won all 18 matches against the Azzurri and it's been an average score of 46-11 when the sides have met at Twickenham. The hosts have scored 36 tries in the previous six games in this fixture, with wingers bagging 15 of them. Italy have lost 32/34 away games in the Six Nations, by an average score of 34-13 so the position that the bookies have taken on the game is understandable. The visitors are priced at a generous 41.0 to win on Sunday and are being given 26 points on the handicap. Italy have been outscored by an average of 17 points after the break in the last six away games and -13 points on the second half handicap for their opposition would have covered in 5/6 of those matches. England have averaged a half-time lead of 20 points over Italy in their clashes at Twickenham and a -12 half-time handicap would have covered in 6/6 games. If you were looking to back the hosts, then either of those options would be favourable to choosing the main 26 point handicap. I'm leaning towards the second half option and head coach Stuart Lancaster has been emphasising a desire to tire teams and kill them off in the latter stages in recent interviews.
Leigh Halfpenny has four tries in three games against Scotland, Vincent Clerc eight in ten against Ireland. It's a generous 18.0 for both to score. Manu Tuilagi has five in his last six games and six in eight at HQ but is going to be priced far too short on Sunday, so it is perhaps worth looking at him as a first try-scorer option instead. A Stuart Hogg / Wesley Fofana anytime double of 32.5 or Johnnie Beattie / Louis Picamoles at 76.0 also appeals.
Over in Super Rugby, a 'Frank the Tank' Halai / Hosea Gear / Jesse Mogg anytime scorer treble is 12.0. Backing the Brumbies -3, Stormers +5, Wales +1, France +5 and Blues -3 is 6.6. France and Wales to both win by a margin of 1-12 points is 6.2 and if you add in the Stormers and Brumbies by the same amount it is a chunky 40.6 wager.